The Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), now Nature Society (Singapore) or NSS was initially an organisation devoted mainly to encouraging locals to appreciate nature. Members regularly conducted nature walks and gave talks on the local flora and fauna. After all, as far back as the 1980s most of us were more familiar with oak trees and daffodils than with angsana and hibiscus.
All these changed when Government accepted the society’s proposal to set aside a piece of land in Sungei Buloh for a bird sanctuary (above). This was in 1989 and the first post-colonial allocation of land for nature conservation. (Note: We will be posting an account on Sungei Buloh in part 2 of this series.)
The announcement boosted the morale of the society. A Master Plan for the Conservation of Nature Areas in Singapore was soon assembled (above). This was the first ever document listing the few Nature Reserves we had as well as potential nature areas. To the delight of the society, Government endorsed the document (below).
The society’s activists, mostly birdwatchers, went into high gear and produced a number of lesser documents based on the Master Plan (below). These areas, from newly reclaimed areas to groves of trees and immature forests, were listed as possible areas for conservation. Their merits, according to these activists, were the presence of plentiful birds. And every proposal included a long list of birds recorded for the area.
Led by locals who were new to the conservation agenda, these activists, although full of enthusiasm, were somewhat naïve. They took their lobbying efforts directly to the print media. They also failed to realise that the much-touted Master Plan included many areas, although teeming with birdlife, could easily be replicated within a few years.
The ensuing media confrontation did not endear the society to government and eventually, most of these areas ended up being developed.
The subsequent series of posts will discuss the more important areas and the outcome of the media confrontation. These are intended to remind the current group of activists, some of whom appear to have failed to learn from our past mistakes. If older activists are stubborn and cannot change their ways, hopefully the current group of newer leaders are more open-minded.
Furthermore, although activists are excellent birdwatchers and have no problem compiling lists after lists of birds from different areas, they generally lack knowledge of the role habitats play in attracting birdlife LINK.
We are all fighting to preserve the ever-dwindling nature at our doorsteps. We cannot afford to preserve everything. So we have to get our priorities right. To keep on demanding for the conservation of easily replicable habitats makes no sense. And when centuries-old Nature Reserves are threatened, we will have no credibility left to garner support.
2nd April 2017
Secretary, Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch) 1978-1990; Founding President, Nature Society (Singapore) 1990-1995